Sutton Park by Verity Milligan
There are many faces to Sutton Park, and no single photo series could ever hope to show them all.
This blog is dedicated to one winter morning just after sunrise, with frost hanging from branches and the sun desperately trying to warm the cold ground. This blog is also dedicated to the ever changing and elusive light that I chase, day in and day out.
Komorebi is a Japanese word that literally translates as ‘light coming through the trees’. In Sutton Park on a cold, bright January morning, this was the light I was looking for. In fact, if I’m entirely honest, this is the light I’m always hoping to find.
I was inspired by another Birmingham photographer – Helen Purcell (@Brummiesister on Instagram, look her up) after she posted some amazing shots of light penetrating the trees in Sutton Park. I love it when other photographer’s inspire me and influence my work, it makes the whole process much more collaborative.
Sutton Park is one of the largest urban parks in Europe. I imagine I would be completely overwhelmed by it’s magnitude if I was a child. It would become another world, and frankly it’s hard to imagine yourself in the city when you’re surrounded by the tranquility of seemingly endless woodland and the occasional surprise of a lake, springing into view.
My first introduction to Sutton Park was dog walking the now sadly departed Fruitcake, my partner’s childhood mutt who loved to meander through the park. It was the early days of our wonderful relationship, and those walks have come to mean a lot to me (especially as I’m a nostalgic sort). Since her parents moved from Great Barr, there’s been little occasion for us to venture out to Sutton, but I really wanted to explore it on a cold morning, hoping that the elusive and coveted Komorebi.
Despite the early hours, Sutton was busy with runners, walkers, cyclists and families taking advantage of the sunny (albeit cold) morning. Dogs sprinted after sticks and lolloped around joyfully, and most people would give a cheery ‘Morning!’ as you passed them on the paths. Starting out from Streely Wood, crossing the bridge over the railway, the morning light was starting to make it’s way above the tree line, and the faint hint of early mist gave the scene an ethereal feel, empty and devoid of freight trains rattling through.
I’m not entire sure of the route took; I’m the kind of photographer who likes to wander. All I know is that I was chasing the sun, and the light, as it rose. For forest light, it’s preferable to have some space between the trees, where the forest is too dense, the light cannot find a way through. When you catch it in the corner of your eye, komorebi becomes elusive; sometimes you see it at a distance and when approached it dissipates. There’s something wonderfully profound in that realisation, sometimes you cannot see something clearly unless you take a step back.
Following the path through the frozen landscape, crossing over frozen heathland, passing by Bracebridge Pool, eventually I ended up at the edge of Blackroot Pool and the conditions were just right. The sun was sprawling over the water and catching the tree line, illuminating the runners and the families in warm, morning light. This was what I had been chasing.
There are Exmoor Ponies that roam free around Sutton Park, although they appear to be much more elusive than their Somerset/Devonshire counterparts. I have yet to see any, although there are tell-tale signs dotted around the park itself. Wildlife is still very much part of the park’s persona. Several times (the last being in 2005), Nightjars have been spotted in the surroundings. In several of my images from that morning (although none that made the final cut), a fox can be seen darting across the path, blurred in motion, confusing the nearby dogs.
The other side of the park, by Banners Gate, also has lots of natural treats for the wanton urban wanderer. Although the hands of the clock had swung round to lunchtime, I was still hunting the elusive light. By now the park was full of revellers, kids reeling and squealing around the water’s edge. The bark of pugs and pups of all sizes resonating through the forest. The occasional herd of cows standing lazily around, still somewhat intimidating to me even though I’m now in my 30s. Eventually, half elated, mildly frustrated, and somewhat tired (my usual state as a photographer), it was time to find some brunch and call it a day.
Sutton park has something for everyone, even in the winter time. For me, I find winter to be wonderfully beautiful. They light always stays low and the air is full of cold, mist and frost, the perfect combination for atmospheric photography. As we stand on the cusp of Spring, it feels good to look back and honour the passing of winter, where nature is pulled back to it’s bare essentials, ready to be renewed, and blossom once again.
All images © Verity Milligan